General Hoth: SPLA needs further transformation

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Sunday, 07 June 2009 14:42
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Manyok Biar is a contributor to NSV

(Texas,USA)--The recent reshuffle of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) administration was carefully done. President Kiir’s administration understands that officials need to be employed where their talents fit. Leaders sometimes fail when their jobs do not fit their talents. General Oyai undoubtedly is a good diplomat. SPLA loved him during the war because of his diplomatic gift.

General Hoth is an independent thinker who fits to be national army’s Chief of Staff, neutral in partisan politics. General Mamur does not back down from enemy’s consuming fire. He is a good pick for SPLA’s commander of operation.

General Pieng Deng is an excellent administrator. Gen. Pieng actually made the Red Army to who they are today through his excellent administrative skills in Panyido, Ethiopia. He was also a good commander of Jamus in 1993 to 1995 around Torit and Kapoeta.  I know him. I am motivated to write about the need for SPLA’s transformation this time because of these leaders.

It is now clear that SPLA has been transformed into a professional army under the leadership of Gen. Oyai. What remains to be done is SPLA social behavior’s transformation. Professional army respects the law, civil leaders, and obeys orders. Social behavior of the army, on the other hand, makes the soldiers relate to one another, their families, their leaders, and the civil society in a meaningful way.

 SPLA is the army that just came out of war. It has many problems that are not caused by individual soldier’s wickedness, but by the situation they were in during the war. Some soldiers have adopted behaviors that have nothing to do with their cultures because of the level of stress they were in during the war. Examples of negative behaviors that this article will address are excessive drinking and bullying.

 These behaviors are negative in SPLA soldiers’ lives and for South Sudan as a whole. We know that wives of SPLA soldiers took care of children during the war, hoping that what their husband where fighting for would one day turn into their families’ happiness and good life. That hope is now within  the reach of these families because of their husbands’ salaries. But drinking is becoming a hawk that continuously snatches these hopes from families of drunkard soldiers. Children of drunkard SPLA soldiers will not make it to school, and therefore, having no future; bad for the nation.

 I need to remind the readers that drinking during the war was normal to almost every soldier because that was how they dealt with stress. Now most of these soldiers cannot voluntarily give up drinking because they are addicted. Soldier with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) still have stress, though. Symptoms of PTSD include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, among other symptoms.

 Soldiers who find drinking or bullying as remedy for their PTSD will hardly give it up. They can even combine drinking with violence, as I witnessed in Nimule in 2006 when a drunkard soldier chased his officer with cocked AK. 47 like a wild deer. Civilians now complain about soldiers’ bullying at some check points in South Sudan.

 Something needs to be done to make SPLA a real useful national army. South Sudan can learn from Uganda and Rwanda on how they transformed social behavior of their armies.

 What Gen. Hoth and Gen. Pieng could do to reduce drinking in SPLA is to put restrictions to drinking hours. Other ways for controlling drinking may not apply to SPLA soldiers. For example, age limit for drinking cannot work for SPLA soldiers because most of them are in their early thirties. That leaves the government with only two strategies of reducing drinking. I am not going to mention the other strategy because I know it needs a lot of work to make it effective, and this work does not apply to army administration. Restriction to drinking hours is the only strategy applying to both civil and army administrations.

 Soldiers are supposed to drink in the evening in their barracks. They can buy their drinks at daytime and take them to their barracks. In the evening, they can drink while sitting in their squads or their officers’ mess. Non-commission officers as well as commissioned officers on duty that day cannot drink. If one is found drinking outside the barrack and at daytime, then he or she can be given punishment that army administration will specify. These punishments can even include one’s expulsion from the army.

 If this restriction is effectively imposed, then some soldiers will reduce the amount of liquor they consume each day, leading to the reduction in the level of their addiction, which might even help some soldiers give up drinking altogether.

 Lastly, bullying of civilians should be criminalized. Civilians rely on the army for protection. It does not make sense when the same protectors become threats to civilians. Maintaining of law and order is not army’s work. SPLA doesn’t have the right to give civilians hard time at check point. That is police’s work. SPLA is the image of South Sudan. It must be good.

 *Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and a Master of Science in Social Work, specializing in Administration and Planning. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.